The Tablet Blog
Factionalism is not what the Catholic Church is aboutEditor Catherine Pepinster on the end of the Soho Masses
9 January 2013, 9:00
Mass on Christmas Eve. To my left, there's my former GP, now retired. In front of me a woman who used to run a bar I frequented. On the way out, I bump into a Eucharistic minister who's of Iraqi extraction. Behind me was a Japanese family. Across the aisle, I spot Italians, someone I know who is from the Caribbean, widows, the single, a man who quite probably is gay, a young family, people who struggle into Mass on sticks, one of my schoolteachers, a former Tory councillor. All human life is there: we've all come to worship together, to recall the moment of the Nativity that transformed the world. Despite our racial, gender, and political differences, it is a moment to make peace with one another and to realise that we are all equally loved, and all equally precious to the Lord. And it is the Catholic, universal Church at its very best.
It also leaves me puzzled. When the Catholic Church, through its parish structure, offers this wonderful opportunity for us all to come together to pray and to praise the Lord, what is the point of factional churches and elite groups? And more to the point, why does the Church approve some of those factions while not approving of others? This week Archbishop Vincent Nichols pulled the plug on the gay Masses that have been held in London's Soho for more than five years, asking those attending to go to Mass in their parishes (although he backed the continuation of pastoral meetings for gay people). But there is every sign that other special Masses - for Filipino people, say, or for Poles, or indeed for former Anglicans who want to maintain their links with their Anglican patrimony, will continue to be encouraged.
It's understandable that people first arriving in Britain will want to attend Mass celebrated in their own language and make contact with others who have experienced the same difficulties as migrants. Or that if you have not been made to feel welcome in an ordinary parish, you might be attracted to attend a special Mass for fellow gays, or people with special needs like you, or even, say, fellow journalists. But attending Mass with the like-minded, with others just like you: is that what being Catholic is about? Isn't there a danger that Mass becomes nothing more than a kind of social club, even a kind of ghetto?
Of course, even the ordinary parish, with its supposed cross-section of people, can become nothing more than a social club, where an elite run everything from the altar servers rota to the New Year's Eve party, on the pretext that nothing would ever get done if they didn't do it. Meanwhile nobody else gets a chance to even run the raffle.
But a parish has the potential to be a truly Christian community - so long as hospitality and welcome are its watchwords. Our parishes are the losers if gay people, and Poles, or Catholics with byzantine tastes in liturgy, or former Anglicans go elsewhere for their own special Masses. Archbishop Nichols' exhortation to gay people in his pastoral statement, urging them to return to their usual parishes, should also be seen as a reminder to the rest of us to make space for them and accept them for who they are.
22 January 2013 21:14 (37 of 37)
@Asher Lev - Ratzinger also went on to warn against those interpretations of his teaching - such as that proffered by Basil Cardinal Hume - which taught that the ordering toward intrinsic evil was in itself benign. Ratzinger's warning makes sense in a way in which Hume's interpretation does not. A person ordered toward an evil is in some way already infected by that evil, and the ordering toward it is not morally neutral. As for the teaching itself, it is surely reprehensible. For it is surely an act of 'violent malice in speech' to describe someone as ordered toward an 'intrinsic moral evil' when they are not. It is surely an act of 'violent malice in speech' to declare 'that the family is put in 'jeopardy' when gay and straight relationships are treated equally, and that when a society legislates to protect homosexuals 'neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase' (Ratzinger in 1986). These are falsehoods that are likely to increase violence - in word and deed - against gay people, not the reverse. The Church's protestations of respect for gay people will always ring hollow for as long as the Church teaches that gay people are ordered toward evil, the evil in virtue of which they are gay people. It is time that people were honest about this.
Christopher McElhinney (Melbourne. Australia.)
22 January 2013 10:48 (36 of 37)
I can only reiterate +Arbp Desmond Tutu on this matter: 'Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice. It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all -- all of us -- part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are. Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical -- the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual? The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. ...I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing -- their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.'¯ I thank God for Fr. Desmond.
19 January 2013 16:54 (35 of 37)
@Gerard Loughlin Ratzinger actually wrote: 'Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.' Of course, this is a firm articulation of the Church's teaching and personally I am saddened by CDF's 1997 rewording of CCC 2358, but it is said in the context of the Church teaching that lust, masturbation and sex seperated from procreation are 'disordered' (2351-52) and it doesn't abrogate the demand that gay people should be 'accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.' The same document reads: 'It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.'
17 January 2013 13:12 (34 of 37)
The sentiment is welcome. But is it possible for Catholic parishes to welcome gay people 'for who they are'? The Church teaches that gay people are (dis)ordered toward an 'intrinsic evil'. But gay people are not so ordered. Therefore, one cannot both accept Church teaching and welcome gay people for who they are. One or the other must be rejected.
16 January 2013 21:45 (33 of 37)
I am not convinced the current diocesan / parish structure with geographical boundaries avoids the kind of factionalism the article describes. There are richer and poorer areas in the Uk, or in individual cities. How about each of us attends mass at a very different parish once a month as a new year resolution?!
15 January 2013 4:47 (32 of 37)
' -- the Catholic Church is not a place for factionalism and elite groups ---' That is truly the most humorous statement that I have read in quite some time. Ms. Pepinster has obviously never been to masses for lawyers, big financial contributors, elderly men in funny plumed hats (I think you call them Knights of St. Columba), etc. And then there are the elite groups that people the Vatican in general.
15 January 2013 4:41 (31 of 37)
Abp Nichols' treatment of the Soho Masses is more than enough 'continuity between the present generation and the previous experience of the Church.'
13 January 2013 2:18 (30 of 37)
As John Dominic Crossan points out, the historical Jesus was obviously preoccupied in demonstrating and teaching the universal love of God through 'open commensality' - sharing a meal with anyone and everyone. For this he was condemned and hounded by the lawmakers. From this practice the Eucharist evolved in the early church. We are not there merely to 'worship' in a formal external display, but to share, accept and support His spirit present in all who come. What a blessing it would be if our commensality was condemned by the lawgivers for being too open! Christ would then be truly still alive in us.
11 January 2013 18:25 (29 of 37)
Well before the Soho Masses, many same-sex attracted (SSA) men and women attended the Sunday evening Mass at Warwick Street parish alongside the other parishioners there. The difference was this: we, the members of 'EnCourage', the UK's truly Catholic apostolate to SSA people, gladly attended Mass with other Catholics, not knowing what struggles and temptations they too daily encountered. We attended having reflected on the Gospel where we were encouraged, as every Catholic should be, to live holy and chaste lives. 'EnCourage' has Mass specifically for the chapter but only at times other than our Sunday obligation. For SSA people to make out we are more special than others is to further ostracise from us those who do not feel as we feel, and so the Gospel is diminished. Some 'EnCourage' members were once with the SMPC and others in LGBT Christian groups. Yet, by God's grace, a humbling embrace of the Sacraments, and an openness to be cut deeply by the Church's teaching, we have come to discover immense joy, love and life through chaste living. We long for our SSA brothers and sisters who do not wholly embrace the Church's teaching to join us in experiencing this same newness of life promised in God's Word. Gerard: you, your partner, and indeed any SSA person open to the gift of chastity, are most welcome to join 'EnCourage'. +Nichols' decision is right. Farm Street's Parish Priest's decision is right.Both decisions reflect the eternal dignity of the souls under their care.
11 January 2013 16:44 (28 of 37)
the eucharistic celebration is for everyone and that sharing gives it the richness it requires.that is why those who are housebound are taken their communion from the main weekly mass-they are part and parcel of the worshipping community. it is so easy to encourage a ghetto mentality-it must be stopped in its tracks.
11 January 2013 11:47 (27 of 37)
I am not gay nor ever have been a practising homosexual. When I was at university I was scandalised by 'Christian' evangelicals who 'forced' a young member of their circle who had 'come out' to them to kneel and ask for forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, physically blocking him from leaving the room. I vowed that I would never belong to such a Church. I made my General Confession to a gay Dominican priest and was received into full communion with the Church. Dear Gerard and others, the Catholic Church is welcoming and always will be. However, we are all called to live chastely, according to our state in life, as difficult as that may be. I hope that the Latin Church may receive some light from the East and recognise the pastoral benefits of Adelphopoiia, while recognising that it is not a form of same-sex marriage.
9 January 2013 18:22 (26 of 37)
I agree completely that in an ideal world, every Mass should be showing a welcome to everybody. There should not be a major need for special Masses for special groups, except for very practical reasons - language, for instance. For LGBT people though, the very real problem is that there simply is not a real welcome at every Mass. Sometimes, not only is there no welcome, there can even be very open hostility and rejection. Even in parishes where there could be a welcome, the people affected may not know this, and stay away out of suspicion - or reject the idea of having anything to do with the Catholic Church,because of what is seen as rejection and hostility at the heart of Church teaching. This is why the 'Soho Masses' have been so valuable. (Which have never in fact been exclusively for LGBT people, but also include many others who attend as friends, or as straight allies) But it is also why the current move is to be welcomed, as a sign of further growth and maturity of the congregation. We are moving from a context where we could count on an appropriate experience of welcome.among ourselves, to a particular parish were we can count on an appropriate experience of welcome.among the wider community, The next step in our evolution, one which I personally will be taking on as a personal mission, will be to work towards a situation where that welcome will be counted on in every parish, across the country.
8 January 2013 14:51 (25 of 37)
Thank you for a thought provoking piece, which has given me much food for thought. Thanks too to the 24 previous observations.
8 January 2013 2:06 (24 of 37)
Homophobia in Rome ... is coming home. Discuss.
8 January 2013 0:07 (23 of 37)
Why does Catherine Pepinster say that the Catholic Church is not a place for factionalism and elite groups? One of the paradoxes of the Church is that while it is universal it is also particular. There is a long history of Catholics separating from the larger group in order to seek God in a different way, while remaining part of the Church. The founders of all the religious orders were in their own way forming a faction or an 'elite' group. I do not believe that we must have a 'one-size fits all' style of worship. The Church should be big enough to allow groups to do their own thing (within limits), so I have no objection to factions such as Neocatechumenate, the Anglican Ordinariate, fans of the EF, Cistercians, and many, many others doing things their own way.
7 January 2013 9:18 (22 of 37)
Adrian, you for got the Neocatechumenate. I've got to the stage of thinking that it's best to ignore the official rules about receiving the Eucharist. Nothing is more scandalous than seeing good people sitting stuck to the pews at Communion time, be they the divorced and remarried, those who have had the snip or take the pill, or gay people. As a wise old Jesuit once said, if you've got a reason to go to Mass you've got a reason to go to Communion. When it comes to judgement, I'd rather take my chances with God than the hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church.
7 January 2013 8:34 (21 of 37)
Surely. handing the church over to another specific group, which happens to be one of the pope's favourites, tells you all you need to know about the sincerity of the archbishop's 'pastoral' intentions.
7 January 2013 6:41 (20 of 37)
It seems that participating in the Eucharist and the commandment to love one another are intricately linked. Would the sacrament present a more powerful picture to the world if the participants do love one another in their daily lives? Naturally speaking it is easier to start loving another when there are similar interests. So it seems to make natural sense to have similar-interest people coming together to participate in The Eucharist together now and again. For some this would be their local parishes. For others this may be a specific chaplaincy.
6 January 2013 17:06 (19 of 37)
Will you all please have a look at the press release on the Soho Masses website here http://www.sohomasses.com/.
6 January 2013 14:35 (18 of 37)
Followed to its conclusion the article would imply the immediate dissolution of all college chaplaincies, all armed forces ministries away from theatres of war or at sea and of course Opus Dei with its personal prelatures.
6 January 2013 12:46 (17 of 37)
I am a regular mass goer and have never heard any sermon on sex or sexuality or gender nor any comment from anyone in the congregation on the subject except once a Scottish friend being appalled that there were a number of ladies at the back of the church whose profession was self evident. I have never seen anyone refused communion. I think I am in a fairly liberal parish in that the few extreme pre vatican II members of the congregation now go elsewhere. I think most catholics including priests are remarkable for not wanting to cause offense, rather like our saviour.
5 January 2013 18:50 (16 of 37)
Well said Catherine. Both heartening and sad to read some of the posts below. The Archbishop's decision is wrong on so many levels, I do not know where to begin. Every Catholic group I have ever belonged to at some point had a special mass for the group. I can see entirely why some gay people would find support and strength in their own mass ( to which I am sure they would welcome straight or any other catholics). I cannot see the distinction between attending a mass with a special focus or a particular group and attending parish mass. Sadly this is just one more example of homophobic belief in some 'law' taking precedence over the christian imperative of love. Just read today's epistle from 1 John and try and reconcile that with this decision. And a worrying undertone that mass is only for 'good' people. Full marks to the Jesuits at Farm Street though!
5 January 2013 14:37 (15 of 37)
Gerard, bless you. The face of God will welcome you wholeheartedly. Go to church - God asks that you be true to yourself and He made you with a wonderful capacity for love for all and a specific love for your own gender. How can anyone argue with you doing what God made you to do?
5 January 2013 0:51 (14 of 37)
An appeal to all gay clergy: Have courage. Have integrity. Stop the lie. This act by +Vincent Nichols is only a public version of what many of you do daily: deny that your way of life protects you from what other gay people in your churches have to live with and suffer. Most of us do not have the luxury of our sexuality never being questioned because we wear a collar and are assumed to be of a higher ontological order. Being gay cannot easily be hidden nor should it have to be. But many of you live the high life and some even use this as a substitute for what they do not receive in affection from a partner. Still others of you are not living as chaste celibates and live a hidden life. I know: I've met several dozens of you. Many right wing seminarians are coming through the system with no interest in ordinary people. It's time that the bishops acknowledged this. They need the support of such to retain their power ... And for certain of them, the chance of a red hat. The social gospel is dying a death in our land and Rome is fiddling while the silent lament is stifled by vitriol about people who are already cut off, namely your fellow gay Catholics and so so many others.
4 January 2013 23:57 (13 of 37)
Thank you so much Gerard, Pat and Phil. Gerard, please be assured and comforted by the fact that there are many, like me, who would celebrate your love for your partner and wish you both joy. I'm a 64 year old married grandmother (full brownie points from the RCC of course) But - don't you worry - your love and commitment to your partner, as you well know, is what God sees, knows and loves, far better than any ludicrous bishop. Pat - you're so right - it is the Church that is failing (though not so much the ordinary folk who think deeply about what it is to be 'Christian' I suspect) The Church (capital C) has lost it's authority for me, at least, anyway. Phil - this is so true. If I was looking for a parish to join today, I would certainly look for a community in which I felt welcome and at home and which would afford some spiritual nourishment. I, like you, have had quite enough of the 'negative energy that saps the spirit' . This 'whispering of the holy spirit' is now what I myself am after. Thanks again, love and best wishes to you all.
4 January 2013 20:57 (12 of 37)
denis, that makes good sense
4 January 2013 17:49 (11 of 37)
Your editorial has missed the forest for the trees. Community is no longer defined by geographic area, but church structures remain medieval in origin. Parishes defined by geographic boundaries are obsolete. People gather in community where they feel accepted, welcomed and respected. It is amazing that gay catholics even both to look for a catholic church - but obviously the Soho option provided such a community environment. The bishop (church) is not interested in making gay catholics feel welcome in the traditional parishes, that would offend the Vatican masters. What the bishop wants is to close down a visible sign of welcoming gay people in the church. There are no churches for lepers or TB patients - the Vatican treats the homosexual persuasion as a disorder - a disease. At the same time the catholic clergy has become a gay occupation - so long as those clergy who are gay indulge in self-loathing and gay-bashing as a daily spiritual exercise. I refuse to attend mass or partake of the eucharist in communities which are fundamentally exclusive, racist, homophobic, sexist, and most often just theologically incorrect. Why bother trying to change these communities or the clergy of these parishes? That is negative energy that only saps the spirit. Far better to worship, pray and celebrate with people who are open to the whispering of the holy spirit wherever she may be manifest.the great design of the creator.
4 January 2013 17:35 (10 of 37)
Central to the Christian Gospel is God's love for all people. Central to Catholic social teaching is that all people are made in God's image and likeness. As a lesbian who is comfortable in my own identity and open to the mystery of God I take this to mean we are created and loved by God as we are. The ethical teaching of Jesus in the Gospel calls me to be the best me that I can be it doesn't call me to be hetrosexual it simply challenges me to love my neighbour as myself. The Mass provides a sacred space for healing and norishment in Christ. A Church that fails to recognise that every community benefits from grace of the Mass fails to respond to Christ's command 'to do this memory of me' and therefore looses it authority to speak for Christ.
4 January 2013 17:17 (9 of 37)
It is the eve of my birthday and the dawn of a final realisation that as a gay man and former priest I am not welcome in the church I once served. I have never been to the Soho Mass. I have never even felt the desire to go to it, no more than I have ever felt the need to be an active member of my local LGBT network. I live with a man to whom I publicly committed my love and life 7 years ago. In every ordinary detail we are two human beings who can call ourselves beloved upon the earth. We feel cherished by our families and a small circle of friends. We're blessed to have work and a home we have made our own. Last Friday I was unwell. My partner came and lay beside me on the sofa. No words were exchanged; just a quiet presence to each other. It was a simple moment of grace, alongside the times when we are less graceful to each other. One week later, the message is reinforced once more - but this time with a stinging sense of finality - that I will never fully belong in the current manifestation of the church of my birth. The bishops of the courts of Rome may well have formed the words, but a London messenger has administered the painful truth. That it may have been done for the sake of a scarlet zucchetto is beyond belief, I pray. I also pray that my love and I will continue on this journey, where there is some joy in our singleness. We may well do so without the comfort of the sacraments, and then leave this world similarly deprived. But will the face of God also condemn?
4 January 2013 15:26 (8 of 37)
Lazarus of course is correct; if we did not have vernacular Masses (a change which would perhaps not commend itself to the author of this piece, but there we are), then there would naturally be less need for masses for particular language communities. That is a slightly different matter from criticism of the existence of other Rites, Uses and Forms within the church, which is what seems to be hinted at. Byzantine Catholics and members of the ordinariates have (as she recognises) their own liturgical patrimony with roots as ancient (because largely the same) as ours; why should they not therefore be supported to celebrate in a way which recognises this? Liturgical diversity expressed through a range of Rites and Uses is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church; to suggest that these others should abandon their patrimony in favour of ours - which is what the criticism of 'special masses' seems to be aiming at - is a denial of our shared history as well as a dreadful sign to our ecumenical partners. The author's argument also makes the assumption that regular Roman Rite parishes have some advantage in terms of diversity of social circumstances, background and mind over parishes of other Rites or Uses, which is certainly not self-evidently true, even were it a sound argument for liturgical-cultural homogenisation. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to those attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in terms of the very few parishes which cater for them.
4 January 2013 15:13 (7 of 37)
A relief to see some common sense from Pepinster on this one. I was surprised!
4 January 2013 14:45 (6 of 37)
It is pretty obvious that Archbishop Nicholls would not have stopped the 'gay mass' if he hadn't been under pressure from Rome. It is also obvious that complaints from 'good' Catholics played quite a large part in the decision. Gay people do go to Mass, the sign of a practicing Catholic. As Jesus said, 'He who is not against you is for you'. He also said 'Judge not, lest you shall be judged' As a Catholic, belief in one's own superior virtue is not a good place to begin.
4 January 2013 12:15 (5 of 37)
Archbishop Nichols decision was pretty much a no-brainer. The CCC is very clear on homosexuality. They are called to a life of chastity. And we are to love them as brothers and sisters (no gender confusion). There is no reason to have a special mass for them. There are two basic types of masses. OF and EF. Not gay and evil-spit-hatred-against-gays mass. As catholics we will fully support the churches findings of the truth.
4 January 2013 11:01 (4 of 37)
Of course, one of the easiest ways of ending the problem of integrating non-English speakers would be to ensure that masses were regularly said in Latin. That would not only integrate newcomers but ensure continuity between the present generation and the previous experience of the Church.
4 January 2013 10:56 (3 of 37)
Perhaps Archbishop Nichols would like to apologise for the misery the Church has inflicted on gays for the last few thousand years?
3 January 2013 22:24 (2 of 37)
Hmmm - OK so Nichols exhorts 'them' to return to their usual parishes. In the meantime he pulls the rug under what they've already got. Compassionate? I don't think so.
3 January 2013 19:34 (1 of 37)
Absolutely. There is a very unhealthy divisiveness about these 'labelled' Masses. To take the hot topic of the moment having a Mass for gay people makes no more sense than having one for people with blond hair. We are all part of the same Church and should feel welcome at each and every Mass without the need to seek a special sub division.
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